Families get some canoeing experience in boats provided by the Minneapolis based Wilderness Inquiry.

Festival introduces Bronxites to their river

Some 400 people showed up for the Fourth annual Harlem River Festival at Roberto Clemente State Park to celebrate access to the river.


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Fourth annual Harlem River Festival teaches the joys of rowing

Shyneek Swinton tapped her foot and beckoned for her older brother to follow her.

“Let’s go,” she said.  “It’s time to get in the boat!”

Shyneek, 9, her two brothers and her cousin were joined by about 400 people who jumped at the chance to get outside and rowing during a warm and sunny October Saturday at Roberto Clemente State Park.  On the final day of the weeklong Harlem River Festival, families came out for activities, crafts and the rare chance to be out on the water.

“We’re trying to do events to get people out on the Harlem River,” said Chauncy Young, of the Harlem River Working Group, which organized the event.  “So many people live next to this river and don’t even know its name half the time.”

Parents watched their kids don life jackets and climb into wooden canoes with eager faces and big smiles.  One parent was local resident Kathy Powell-Manning, who was excited children had an opportunity to canoe on the river so close to home.

“It gives them a physical activity and the kids need that,” Powell-Manning said, as she watched her daughter climb into a canoe.  “It’s also giving them a chance to get exposed to things they usually wouldn’t.”

A colorful van known as the Canoe Mobile brought the canoes all the way from Minneapolis.  Wilderness Inquiry, the outdoor adventure organization that owns the canoes, runs the service in an effort to give urban communities access to their local waterways.

“This is awesome,” said Nereida Figueroa, of Morris Heights, as she watched her son paddle away on one of the Wilderness Inquiry boats.  “It gives the kids something to do that’s nearby, and it’s free.”

Some groups came from as far as Albany to join in the festival, which debuted four years ago.  Even so, the event was missing past partners and activities, such as water testing with the U.S. Geological Survey, which failed to show due to the government shutdown. But local rowing organizations and the Bronx Children’s Museum kept families entertained.

Before getting out on the water, children practiced their technique on rowing machines provided by Row New York.

Families also explored a mobile Bronx Children’s’ Museum exhibit celebrating the soon to be reopened High Bridge, which connects the two sides of the Harlem River.  Before embarking on the canoes, children used crafts to contribute to a colorful miniature reconstruction of New York’s oldest bridge.

Daniel Velazquez, a Mott Haven resident who grew up in Morris Heights said it was important for the community to enjoy events like this one.  He brought his daughter Marianela, 8, to try canoeing, an activity he had enjoyed in his youth.

“It’s a chance to stretch and release some stress,” Velazquez said.  “Simplicity is breathtaking sometimes.”

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